Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"The Kitchen" by Lily Yulianti Farid

"The Kitchen"  by  Lily Yulianti Farid (2009, 6 pages)

Indonesian Short Story Week
Year II-Day Two
Journalist and Radio Personality

I really like an admire "The Kitchen"  by  Lily Yulianti Farid.   The author is from Makassar in South Sulawesi Indonesia.   She is a well known journalist.   She has also had radio programs in Melbourne and Tokyo.   She is a frequent participant and guest speaker at international conferences on family issues.   In 2008 she published her first collection of short stories.

"The Kitchen" is told in the first person by a woman now probably in her mid twenties.    Besides the narrator there are only two people in the story, her mother and the family helper Ruth who has been with them for many years.   (As a side note, most middle class families in much of South East Asia have live in family helpers, normally "country" women who often become very close to the family and especially the children for whom they are often the  primary care giver.   I think you need to know this in reading this story.)   

The mother has a food preparation and catering business that she runs out of her house with the help of Ruth.   Our narrator's earliest memories are of the kitchen.  The opening lines of the story really  caught my attention.   
"Ruth loved flour. Mother loved the kitchen. And I loved Ruth and Mother. I grew up at the large kitchen table, watching Ruth sift flour and mix various kinds of dough. I learned to walk while holding on to Mother's skirt as she chopped onions, boiled potatoes, and minced meat."

Ruth is from central Java and has an intense love for its culture and tradition, a lot of which she talks about in the kitchen.    It was very interesting to hear her stories of men who fought in the Royal Dutch Army during WWII and in the war for independence after that.    You could feel her pride.   The story also lets us see that residents of Indonesia, prior to Independence, saw them selves primarily as residents of their locality, just like we find in the history of the Philippines.

As the story goes on and the narrator ages we learn the mother's primary clients are government offices.   It seems no government meeting can take place with out a big catered feast.   It was great and made me hungry to read the descriptions of the food.   Farid also very subtly lets us see how corruption is creeping into the process.     It made me nervous the first time a government official asked the mother to sign a blank receipt for a cash purchase.   When she questioned it, she was told it was just a time saving procedure.   Soon more and more orders come in along with more and more government employees asking for blank receipts.  

Soon religion based violence breaks out in Ruth's home town.   I want to quote a bit more from the story

"In the late 1990s when unrest broke out in Ambon, with both Christian and Muslim militia forces spreading death and destruction, Ruth, who was getting on in years but still sifting flour in our kitchen, cursed with teary eyes the hateful and abhorrent images of the island on television: "Why are they killing each other? Why?"
Business is getting better and better but the narrator notices something is wrong with her mother.   (Her mother had thrown her husband out many years ago when he took a second wife,)   Her mother is crying and seems angry all the time and for the first time ever begins to snap at her and Ruth.   
This story kind of ends in two stages.   In one we find out why the mother is sad.    This part of the story is just great and very believable.   It is also quite sad.  I will not tell potential readers any more
There is a second stage to the ending where we flash forward a number of years (it is not clear exactly how many but this is as it should be in this story.)   You will love, I think, the brilliant way Farid shows us that the daughter (who keeps the business going) has learned from her mother's mistakes and is a very strong woman drawing on the lessons of  her mother and Ruth, both now passed on.

"The Kitchen" is a very good short story.   It puts interesting people in a dramatic situation and allows some interesting events to develop.     The central character profits morally from her experience and there is a lesson for us all in the story.     We see how work and life interact for the three women in the story and I think you will like all three of them a lot.   John McGlynn translated this story.   The prose is beautiful and there are no bad notes.  

You can read this story on line Her
Please consider joining in this event.   There are links to lots of Indonesian Short  Stories you can read online on the resources page.   Once you read a story you should leave a comment either here or on Nurvoz's Blog Polychrome Interest.   We will keep the event open for posting for all of August.

There is a wonderful post for the event at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat,   a blog with a very creative name and a lot of high end content.

Mel u


Anonymous said...

Fantastic short story. I have to read it.

Mel u said...

the electricreader-if you do get a chance to post on this story-please leave a comment here so we can link back to you and thanks very much for your comment and visit

Novroz said...

It sounds interesting. Your last description kinda intrigued me.It sounds interesting. Your last description kinda intrigued me.